One of the interesting things about being in the 40K world for many years is that you get to see how companies evolve over time. You can witness the professionalization of Games Workshop and the ways they have sought to interact (if at all) with their customers. In my opinion one of the more interesting trends I have been tracking is: the struggle of Forge World’s identity. To appreciate it, let’s take a look at it’s history:
As some of you know Forge World was started after Games Workshop terminated their license with a company called Armorcast. Initially Armorcast made the large resin models for Games Workshop as well as much of their terrain. Realizing that they could do it themselves, and make more money if they produced their own miniatures, GW founded Forge World in 1998. Then, as now, the primary goal of Forge World was to provide optional, expensive models (like the original all-metal thunderhawk) at a premium price for hard-core fans.
Over the next years Forge World continued to grow in popularity while also providing some cheaper options for gamers (compared to a titan that is). By adding in smaller units like tanks, model upgrades etc. average players could splurge on one or two models to make their armies stand out. It was also at this point when they started to release their own books: The Imperial Armor series. The initial books were largely descriptions of the models that Forge World sold. That began to change in 2005 when they released Imperial Armour Volume Three – The Taros Campaign. This was the beginning of their focus on narrative heavy books that highlighted certain armies, and usually gave them one or two broken models.
As it continued to create incredible models and stories, Forge World established itself as a highly lucrative brand. During this period we got the full Death Korps of Krieg and Elysian lines, new titans and expanded options for most xenos armies (especially orks). Oh and there was this little thing called: The Horus Heresy. With 40k languishing through 7th edition Forge World’s products became highly desirable as players looked to the HH series for a more balanced option. The destruction of the Old World Fantasy world was a bit of a blow (as their Monsterous Arcanum book still serving as a testament to what might have been.) Another note that will be relevant for the future is that some models that were originally exclusive to Forge World trickled into the plastic world, particularly the Ork Stompa and the Imperial Guard Baneblade
It’s hard to overstate how massive of a blow the loss of Alan Bligh was to Forge World. The architect of the Horus Heresy series and many other projects he was the animating force for FW. While it is possible FW was in decline before his passing in 2017, his absence seemed to suck the wind out of their sails. Since then we have received only one new Horus Heresy book in 2019. FW also seemed to stop producing their campaign books after the The Fall of Orpheus in 2013 with the promised Ad Mech vs Tau book being one of the great missing masterpieces players still mourn. Some releases have still trickled out, with new tanks and characters for the Horus Heresy series but these seem disjointed and usually, not tied to a specific book release. Other then that and some releases for Blood Bowl stars the releases from Forge World has slowed to almost nothing.
As of right now GW doesn’t seem to have a clear idea of what role they want Forge World to play. They still serve the key function of selling highly expensive prestige-models like titans or Stormbirds, aside from this the other products have been languishing. The Horus Heresy has struggled with it’s creator passing and the emergency of a really solid rule set for 40k emerging in 8th edition. The pricier add-on options for Bloodbowl and Titanicus etc. are nice but they are few in number and don’t get much cross-promotion within their games. One of the things I think is concerning is that GW seems increasingly interested in cannibalizing the more popular models into plastic. While I am not going to complain about such great models becoming easier to buy, I am concerned that it speaks to the creative death of FW. As these lines move into plastic we haven’t seen the emergence of any particularly new or interesting replacements. Although, it’s hard to argue that GW as a whole has grown less creative since 2017, the plethora of rules and books in both Age of Sigmar and 40k attest to that.
It will be interesting to see what plans GW has for Forge World moving forward. I have heard some rumors that they will pivot towards the Death Korps being the poster-children for the Guard line (something the recent kill team box would seem to support). This would be another blow to Forge World as this line is arguably the most popular army they produce. At the same time, we are hearing rumors of a 30K box set at Christmas with more resin-only models being moved to plastic. This would have the possibility of getting new players into the HH series and driving more FW sales but I think they need a new rulebook and some simplification before that happens.
I think the most likely outcome for the foreseeable future will be for Forge World to trundle along as is until they find a new dynamic individual to give it a focus. The Age of Sigmar setting is ripe for exploration and even with the rise of the campaign books from GW there is still a hunger for more focused stories like those that were found in the old Imperial Armor books.
Do you have any thoughts on their future? Leave a comment below, or comment if you think I am missing something obvious.
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